Grant Barrett has a column in The Star (of Malaysia) called “Welcome to Slang City” that features terms originating in New York City, that hotbed of linguistic innovation. Some of them are fairly boring, like (taxi) medallion and gridlock (though I was astonished, on looking them up in the OED, to find that the former is not attested before 1960 and the latter before 1980), but others are wonderful:
A term you will still see occasionally is highbinder, which in the early 1800s meant a violent criminal or thug. The word was taken from the name of the High-binders, an Irish gang.
Highbinder was later used to refer to a member of a secret Chinese criminal gang, especially an assassin. By 1890 it referred to a slimy – disreputable or untrustworthy – politician….
A word that thrived in the late 1800s and early 1900s in New York City but now appears to have completely fallen out of the language is lobbygow.
In a well-known murder trial in 1914, one of the witnesses described a lobbygow as “a pal and a friend willing to do almost anything he is told”. Early police literature describes lobbygows as white men who run errands for the powerful Chinese underworld bosses.
By the 1930s, a lobbygow was a person who would lead tourists on slumming tours of Chinatown. The middle and upper classes could get a first-hand look at how the lower class lived. Lobbygows were believed to be as likely to lead someone to a planned mugging as they were to show them opium dens.